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AH-1W Super Cobra

In 1966, the DOD contracted with Bell Helicopter, Inc. (BHI) for 1,100 AH-1G aircraft, which logged more than 1 million flight hours in Vietnam. Subsequently, the USMC desired a twin engine AH-1G; thus, the SEA COBRA (AH-1J) was developed. The United States Marine Corps (USMC) then identified a need for more armaments; thus, the AH-1T upgrade was initiated. This aircraft had an extended tailboom and fuselage and an upgraded transmission and engines.

The AH-1 is fully capable of performing its attack mission in all weather conditions. Additional missions include direct air support, antitank, armed escort, and air to air combat. The TOW missile targeting system uses a telescopic sight unit (traverse 110º, elevation 60º/+30º), a laser augmented tracking capability, thermal sights and a FLIR to allow for acquisition, launch, and tracking of all types of TOW missiles in all weather conditions. The Cobra also uses a digital ballistic computer, a HUD, Doppler nav, and a low speed air data sensor on the starboard side for firing, and has in-flight boresighting. External stores are mounted on underwing external stores points. Each wing has two hardpoints for a total of four stations. A representative mix when targeting armor formations would be eight TOW missiles, two 2.75-in rocket pods, and 750x 20-mm rounds. The gun must be centered before firing underwing stores. Armored cockpit can withstand small arms fire, and composite blades and tailboom are able withstand damage from 23-mm cannon hits.small arms fire, and composite blades and tailboom able to withstand damage from 23-mm cannon hits.

The Marines depend on attack helicopters to provide close-in fire support coordination in serial and ground escort operations. Such support is required during amphibious ship-to-shore movements and subsequent shore operations within the objective area. AH-1 is designed for the following tasks:

By the early 1980s, USMC aircraft inventory was declining due to attrition; a fully navalized helicopter was sought. In 1983, the USMC contracted with BHI for 44 AH-1Ws. The AH-1W Super Cobra is a day/night marginal weather Marine Corps attack helicopter that provides enroute escort for our assault helicopters and their embarked forces. The AH-1W is a two-place, tandem-seat, twin-engine helicopter capable of land- or sea-based operations. The AH-1W provides fire support and fire support coordination to the landing force during amphibious assaults and subsequent operations ashore. The AH-1W distinguished itself with its more powerful T700-GE-401 fully marinized engines and advanced electronic weapons capability. The AH-1W can fire TOW, Hellfire, and Sidewinder missiles and can be outfitted with Zuni rocket launchers.

The AH-1W is operated in eight composite HMLA squadrons composed of 18 AH-1 and 9 UH-1 aircraft. The AH-1W is curretnly being outfitted with a Night Targeting System/Forward Looking Infrared Radar that provides laser rangefinding/designating and camera capabilities.

The AH-1W is operated in eight composite HMLA squadrons composed of 18 AH-1 and 9 UH-1 aircraft. The Marine Corps deployed 4 of 6 active force squadrons (48 AH-1Ws) to Southwest Asia during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. These helicopters destroyed 97 tanks, 104 armored personnel carriers and vehicles, 16 bunkers and 2 antiaircraft artillery sites without the loss of any aircraft. The deployment required no additional augmentation to squadron support personnel and only one Bell Helicopter technical representative.


A four bladed version of the AH-1W, designated the AH-1Z, is also under development; the addition of the extra blades dramatically improves the performance envelope of the AH-1W. Currently, the AH-1W is being retrofitted with a Kollsman-manufactured Night Targeting System (NTS). The aircraft is also undergoing a cockpit reconfiguration to allow for easier copilot/gunner access to the NTS. The upgrade of the AH-1W, including the new cockpit, is referred to as the Four Bladed AH-1W (4BW) and the upgrade of the UH-1N drive train is referred to as the Four Bladed UH-1N (4BN). Collectively, the 4BN/4BW effort constitutes the USMC H-1 Upgrades Program.

The Marine Corps plans to upgrade 180 of the AH-1W gunships to the new AH-1Z standard. The first flight is expected in October 2000, to be followed by low-rate initial production beginning in February 2002, with deliveries running from 2004 through 2013.

This program combines upgrades of two USMC H-1 aircraft: the AH-1W Cobra attack helicopter and the UH-1N light utility helicopter. The common element of the two will be identical twin engines and drive trains, including a new four-bladed rotor previously developed but not fielded. In addition, the AH-1 attack helicopter will gain a new integrated cockpit and night targeting system. The upgrade will extend the life of the H-1 two models well into the 21st century. The AH-1 will contribute to precision engagement and full-dimensional protection; the UH-1 will provide support to focused logistics.

Under the 4BW/4BN fully integrated cockpits will be phased into the development after initial work on the drive system is underway. Initial work will consist of simultaneous design efforts for the 4BW and 4BN. Major modifications include: a new rotor system with semi-automatic bladefold of the new composite rotor system, a new performance matched transmission, a new 4-bladed tail rotor and drive system, a more effective stabilizer, upgraded landing gear, tail pylon structural modifications and common cockpits. This remanufacture will add 10,000 flight hours to 4BW/4BN airframes. The 4BW will increase aircraft maneuverability, speed, and payload (ordnance) capability. The fully integrated cockpits will reduce operator workload and improve situational awareness, thus increasing safety. It will provide growth potential for future weapon systems and avionics, which would increase mission effectiveness and survivability. As discrete systems have previously been added to both aircraft, pilot workload has progressively worsened. The cockpits will include integration of on-board mission planning, communications, digital fire control, self navigation, night targeting, and weapons systems in nearly identical crew stations reducing training requirements. The 4BN effort will incorporate the 4BW rotor system into the UH-1N aircraft, as well as a fully integrated cockpit common with the 4BW, maximizing commonality between the two aircraft and providing needed improvements in crew and passenger survivability, payload, power available, endurance, range, airspeed, maneuverability and supportability.

The 4BN/4BW program was instituted in the summer of 1996 by combining several lesser upgrades planned but not executed by the Marine Corps. Prior to entry into EMD in September, 1996, DOT&E approved the program's alternative LFT&E plan and USD(A&T) approved a waiver from full-up, system-level LFT&E. The AH-1W will be tested full-up, system-level; the UH-1N received a waiver from full-up, system-level testing. The H-1 Upgrade ORDs require that both helicopters be tolerant to impacts by 12.7mm rounds and have crashworthy enhancements. Additionally, the drive components of the AH-1W should be tolerant to 23mm rounds.

The H-1 Upgrade has the most comprehensive and realistic aircraft LFT&E program approved to date. The program will include full-up, system-level testing of an AH-1W and testing of all but the tail (which is common to both aircraft) of the UH-1N. It will explore in detail various potential kill mechanisms related to the expected threat. The LFT&E program is integrated fully into the systems engineering effort and should yield a reasonable opportunity to incorporate improvements if deficiencies are found.


Most older Cobra variants still in operation have been upgraded to the AH-1F standard. Also produced in Romania and Japan under license from Bell Textron in the U.S.


Contractor: Bell Helicopter TEXTRON, Inc. (Prime), General Electric, Kollsman Inc.
Power Plant:
  • Two General Electric T700-GE-401 Turboshaft engines
  • Each engine delivers 1,690 horsepower.
  • Accommodations:
  • Two seats, in tandem (pilot in rear, copilot/gunner in front)
  • Performance:
  • Climb rate: 1,925 feet per minute
  • Maximum altitude: 14,750 feet
  • Maximum attainable speed: 170 knots (195 mph)
  • Maximum cruising speed: 152 knots (173 mph)
  • Countermeasures:
  • AN/ALE-39 Chaff system and SUU-4/1 Flare dispensers
  • Armament:
  • One M197 three barrel 20 mm gun (mounted under the nose with 750 round ammo container)
  • Underwing attachments for four TOW missiles, eight Hellfire missiles, or one AIM-9L Sidewinder missile
  • Can also be equipped with Zuni rocket launchers
  • External Dimensions

    Main rotor diameter 14.63 m
    Main rotor blade chord 00.84 m
    Tail rotor diameter 02.97 m
    Tail rotor blade chord 00.305 m
    Distance between rotor centers 08.89 m
    Wing span 03.28 m
    Wing aspect ratio 03.74
    Length: overall, rotors turning 17.68 m
    Length: fuselage 13.87 m
    Width overall 03.28 m
    Height (to top of rotor head) 04.11 m
    Overall height 04.44 m
    Ground clearance, main rotor, turning 02.74 m
    Elevator span 02.11 m
    Width over skids 02.24 m


    Main rotor blades (each) 006.13 m2
    Tail rotor blades (each) 000.45 m2
    Main rotor disc 168.11 m2
    Tail rotor disc 006.94 m2
    Vertical fin 002.01 m2
    Horizontal tail surfaces 001.41 m2

    Weights and Loadings

    Weight empty 004.634 kg
    Mission fuel load (usable) 946 kg
    Maximum useful load (fuel and disposable ordinance) 002.065 kg
    Maximum Takeoff and landing weight 006.690 kg
    Maximum disc loading 039.80 kg/m2
    Maximum power loading 004.42 kg/kW

    Performance (At Maximum T-O weight, ISA)

    Never exceed speed (Vne) 190 knots
    Maximum level speed at S/L 152 knots
    Rate of climb at S/L, OEI 244 m/minute
    Service ceiling More than 4,720 m
    Service ceiling, OEI More than 3,660 m
    Hovering ceiling
    4, 495 m
    915 m
    Range at S/L with standard fuel, no reserves 317 nm

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    Maintained by Robert Sherman
    Originally created by John Pike
    Updated Monday, December 27, 1999 5:25:18 PM